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Numbers Game: A's deal Cespedes to Red Sox for Lester

Scott Cullen
7/31/2014 12:34:32 PM
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The Oakland Athletics made another big move, and a follow-up move, before Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline, acquiring an ace lefthanded starter to bolster a rotation that was already playoff-calibre.

Numbers Game looks at the A's getting Jon Lester from Boston, sending Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox along with a deal involving the A's and the Minnesota Twins.

The Athletics Get: LHP Jon Lester, LF Jonny Gomes, OF Sam Fuld and cash.

Lester, 30, was (depending on the availability of Tampa Bay's David Price) possibly the premier pitcher available on the trade market, and is currently having the best year of his career, with a career-best 2.52 ERA in 21 starts. He's also 10-7 with a 1.12 WHIP, with 149 strikeouts in 143 innings -- the first time since 2010 that Lester has struck out more than a batter per inning.

This career season has come as Lester has altered his approach somewhat. He's long had a four-pitch repertoire, but Lester has reduced his use of change-ups this year (a career-low 3.6%), while throwing more cutters (29.6%) than ever before

Since 2008, Lester ranks seventh in Fan Graphs' WAR (31.9), and is the 13th-ranked starting pitcher in the TSN.ca rankings, so he has the credentials of a major league staff ace and he joins an Oakland rotation that already leads the American League with a 3.32 ERA. As it stands right now, recently-acquired Jason Hammel and Jesse Chavez are left to battle for the fifth spot behind Lester, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija.

The A's have followed up the Lester trade by dealing lefty Tommy Milone (6-3, 3.55 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in 16 starts for Oakland) to Minnesota, because the A's simply are too deep when it comes to starting pitching, but adding Lester isn't so much about depth as it is adding talent at the top end. He's been a front-of-the-rotation pitcher on some World Series-winning Red Sox teams, posting a 2.11 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 76 2/3 innings in the postseason.

Moving to a pitcher-friendly park in Oakland only makes Lester more appealing.

Lester, who is making $13-million this season, will be a free agent at season's end. He reportedly turned down a four-year extension with the Red Sox worth between $70-million and $80-million, as well he should. He will sign for more than that as a free agent in the offseason. There are hopes in Boston that Lester returns and signs his lucrative new deal with the Red Sox, but it's tough to bank on that now that he has departed.

Gomes is a 33-year-old outfielder who has some power and hits lefties well (.875 career OPS vs. LHP, compared to .722 vs. RHP), but he's struggling this year, with a .683 OPS, the second-lowest of his career. He had a terrific season (18 HR, .868 OPS, 99 GP) while playing with the A's in 2012 and has a .756 OPS in 68 career games in Oakland.

Gomes is earning $5-million this season and will be a free agent at season's end.

Cespedes has seen the majority of the action in left field for the A's this year, and Gomes can handle a platoon role, but there was no way to reasonably expect Gomes to replace Cespedes' production, so the A's followed up their trade with Boston by adding Sam Fuld from Minnesota.

A 32-year-old who has never had more than 346 at-bats in a season, Fuld is a strong defensive player who can run (13 for 16 in stolen base attempts this season, 50-for-66 in his career), but has typically provided little offence.

That said, Fuld has been red-hot in July, posting an .894 OPS while playing 23 games for the Twins, lifting him to a .722 OPS for the season, which isn't great, but the only other time in his big-league career that he's posted better was in 2009, when Fuld had an .821 OPS in 65 games with the Cubs.

Fuld, who makes $800,000 this season, can platoon with Gomes to cover left field for the A's and can play any of the three spots in the outfield if needed. It's a bit of a downgrade from Cespedes, but the upgrade on the mound makes the A's even heavier favourites than they were before.

This deal, coming on the heels of adding Samardzija and Jason Hammel, is a blast from the A's that they are in it to win it this year.

The Red Sox Get: LF Yoenis Cespedes and the second pick in the competitive balance Comp B round.

Cespedes, 28, is a power-hitting outfielder who has a cannon for an arm. In 365 career games, he's hit 66 home runs, with a .262 batting average and .788 OPS. He ranks eighth among left fielders in Fan Graphs WAR (2.3) and TSN.ca Player Rankings, so he's an above average starter at the position.

The issue for the Red Sox, in acquiring Cespedes, is that he is only under contract through next season, making $10.5-million this year and next, before he is eligible to become a free agent. Since his production this year has little relevance for a Red Sox team that is 10.5-games out of a playoff spot, that means Cespedes brings one season of value for Boston. Certainly, if Cespedes is playing well, a contract extension could be in the cards, but in evaluating this trade, the Red Sox can only count on what they are getting today.

Acquiring Cespedes is an indication that the Red Sox expect to bounce back and contend next season and he's a legitimate power bat that could help Boston contend next season, but that's a short-term play that really atypical of what teams seek when trading away pending free agents.

In the A's previous deal with the Cubs, for example, the centrepiece of the deal for Chicago was the A's best prospect, shortstop Addison Russell, who figures to have a long-term impact when he reaches the major leagues and that provides more of a window to get results. What happens if Cespedes gets hurt next year? That could wipe out any possible value that he might provide, so there is risk to the proposition, though it comes with the safety of knowing that Cespedes is at least a bona fide major leaguer.

The pick that the Red Sox receive will reportedly fall around pick 70 in next year's draft. Of 60 players taken between pick 70 and 75 from 2001-2010, 10 (16.7%) are (or have been) full-time major leaguers. (The list: Dan Haren, Andrelton Simmons, Yunel Escobar, Justin Masterson, Charlie Blackmon, Jon Jay, Wade Davis, Kevin Slowey, Chris Ray, Bryan Shaw).

The Twins Get: LHP Tommy Milone.

27-year-old Milone has been an effective starter for the A's, going 32-22 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 80 games over three-plus seasons. His average fastball velocity (86.5 MPH) is among the slowest, so he's not going to overpower anyone, but Milone can keep hitters off balance with his breaking and off-speed stuff. He kind of has the crafty lefty repertoire, even if he's younger than the stereotype for that handle.

Some of his effectiveness, however, has been due to the favourable home park in Oakland, where Milone has a 3.11 ERA (1.15 WHIP) in 37 games, compared to a 4.52 ERA (1.37 WHIP) on the road. Moving to Minnesota is likely going to cost Milone some runs.

Even if he's not able to maintain his strong start to this season, Milone can join a Twins rotation that is still pretty spotty behind Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson and it's an opportunity to prove he is worthy of a regular major league starting job.

Making $510,000 this season, Milone isn't arbitration eligible until after next season, so he's also a bargain for Minnesota and all it cost the Twins was an outfielder that they had previously claimed on waivers from Oakland in April.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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